The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

Looks like J Ro and I are thinking alike. I finished this post about a minute after he hit post on his.

Over at The Next Right, Patrick Ruffini writes that with regards to the future of the Republican Party, "Center vs. Right is the Wrong Debate." Moreover, he writes, "American elections are by and large not referendums on ideologies. They are contests of personality, optics, and performance in office." I'd recommend you read the piece if you get the chance.

There's certainly something to the argument, particularly that the attractiveness of the candidate and the broader environment in the country weigh heavily on elections. But I do not believe this tells the whole story. Take a look, for instance at the recent track record of the Club for Growth, the aim of which is to shift the Republican Party to the right.

As the Republicans gather all over the place to mull their future, one group wants to single out the conservative Club for Growth for hurting the party with moderates. In particular, the League of Conservation voters says it's finding it difficult to find moderate pro-environment Republicans to support, because the Club has been so successful knocking them off in GOP primaries. But the LCV notes the Club's record in general elections is not good. Club-backed candidates -- who defeated some Republicans the LCV would have supported or have supported -- lost congressional elections last week in MD-01, MI-07, and ID-01. In addition, their New Mexico Senate candidate also lost (and lost badly). Has the Club been too pure and ended up nominating candidates that are too conservative, allowing Democrats to win in places like, well, Idaho? The Club is going to have some defending to do (particularly with its donors) about how well the conservative purity game is playing out on the trail.

On the down ballot level, it's very clear that the Republicans have lost seats as a result of ideology in recent cycles. To take one example, in Maryland's first congressional district, which is mentioned above, moderate Republican Wayne Gilchrest would almost undoubtedly have won reelection this month had he not been defeated by a far-right, Club-sponsored candidate in the GOP primary; instead, Democrat Frank Kratovil is the Congressman-elect. To take another example, which isn't mentioned above, the Republicans likely would not have been able to retake Kansas' second congressional district had they nominated conservative Jim Ryun instead of moderate Lynn Jenkins to take on freshman Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Boyda. Similarly, moderate GOP Senator Susan Collins was about the only potentially vulnerable Republican hailing from a blue state to win reelection (and handily) this fall. And the list goes on.

More broadly, ideology -- and particularly Americans' reaction to Republican conservatism -- was one of the keys to spelling the doom of George W. Bush's presidency. Hurricane Katrina, and the federal government's inability to deal with the disaster, were clearly the straw that broke the camel's back. However, even before Katrina, Heckuva Job Brownie, etc., it was Americans' disgust and antipathy towards Bush's attempt to partially privatize Social Security -- an ideological move if there ever was one -- that began to drive some who had previously supported the President to begin to oppose him. In short, here ideology mattered, and the far right stance of the GOP cost the party support and votes.

And just to add one more point, Ruffini writes, "The Democrats did not have to change their ideology to win." In some regards this is true, but in others it isn't. Take the issue of guns, which played no small part in the defeats of Al Gore and John Kerry. The Democrats have by and large given up on the idea of gun control, recognizing that it has been a political loser; they dropped their ideological stance on the issue, thus neutralizing it as an effective electoral tool for the other side, and were able to win.

I don't expect any Republicans to listen to me when I suggest that they should move to the center instead of the right, because clearly it's in my interest (at least on the policy level) for the party to be more accommodating of the agenda of Barack Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill. But if they believe that ideology had nothing to do with their decline in recent years, I do believe they are mistaken.

Tags: Club for Growth, Ideology, Republican Party (all tags)

Comments

18 Comments

Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

So do you agree with a Republican friend of mine who says she expect her party to lose through 2016 because the GOP is on the wrong track? I mean she's very conservative, but says the party really does not get it on issues like health care or even gay rights-- that overtime the American public has swung away from them?

by bruh3 2008-11-15 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

I said it 30 years ago, I daid it all during Ronniemania in the 1980s and I'll sya it now:

If the ultra-conservatives in the Republican Party won't toleerate people tehy don't agree with in their own party, then they shuold get out of politics.

by spirowasright 2008-11-15 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

Yep, I agree. On a micro level, it might not look like ideology has much to do with winning elections, but if you pull back and look at trends you'll see how wrong that is.

This has the potential to be a realigning election, to remake what the terms right, left, center, urban, rural, values, and bipartisan mean. And if so, ideology will shift with it.

by J Ro 2008-11-15 11:55AM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

It's a good point on your part.

I think an even more obvious example of Democrats doing this is with the death penalty: we used to nominate consistently anti-capital punishment candidates, now, I can't imagine an environment in which that would ever happen again.

I think Bill Clinton had two major political legacies - one was restoring the Democratic brand on the economy, and the second was making support of capital punishment mandatory for national candidates.

by Jess81 2008-11-15 12:09PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

They can not survive unless they dumb the Religious Right.  They will never dump the Religious Right.  Therefore, they are dead.  It will take until the last of the old white males (me being one) die off, but once they do it's over for them.

by scytherius 2008-11-15 04:52PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party

... May it rest uncomfortably on the dust heap of History. Good riddance.

by QTG 2008-11-15 05:31PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

I've never been convinced that guns hurt us in a significant way in 2000 or 04.  What I saw and read indicated that the environment (e.g. West Virginia) was what killed us, not guns.

In either case, this can be cured for at least a generation by enacting universal health care.  See the Washington Post's series on Wise County, VA in Appalachia where virtually no one is insured.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-11-16 04:04AM | 0 recs
Financial crisis

Let's not forget that the entire subprime meltdown, and by extension the US and worldwide recession (which cemented Obama's lead and win), was entirely preventable with modest regulation.  Stated income loans?  Stated asset loans??  Greenspan's totally hands off approach based on the pathetic assumption that the market would just regulate itself?  Such things should never be legal in the first place.  Bush's recent comments were idiotic as usual; the free market NEEDS adequate regulation to function properly.  Note that no other country saw a subprime meltdown like we did; they regulate assertively.  I'm not willing to count my chickens before they hatch, but I really hope that the results of deregulation are coming home to roost in the form of a political backlash and reregulation.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-11-16 04:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Financial crisis

You got it right.  And it isn't just investors, liberal activists or other concerned citizens who appreciate adequate regulation, It's the markets themselves.

Sure businesses may piss and moan about regulation, but at the end of the day the markets love the stability, transparency, consistency and continuity that a well regulated system with high standards provides.

by nintendofanboy 2008-11-16 04:12PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

Is gun control a "core issue" of the Democratic party, and has it ever been?  I mean, I'm in favor of gun control laws, but in terms of importance this issue is right up there with seat belt laws- i.e. not that important really.  And it's not just me- is there anyone who couldn't bring themselves to support the Democrats because they dropped gun control?  I haven't even seen a lot of grumbling to that effect.

Compare gun control as an issue to health care, the environment, or equal rights.  If the Democratic party contemplated dropping those issues, there would be huge, loud, widescale revolt and pushback, not just from the grassroots/netroots, but also from the party leadership.  Those are much more our core values than gun control ever was.

by bhurt 2008-11-16 07:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

Gun control isn't putting food on the table or a roof over my head or covering my medical costs.

All it does is make Democrats look like wienies.  Same thing with opposing the death penalty.

I think the point is that we realized we needed to prioritize our issues.  The bread and butter issues have moved to the top.  The one-issue Republicans will be unable to do this.  They can't throw abortion to the side, or even gay marriage for that matter.  It's there "thing".

by nintendofanboy 2008-11-16 04:19PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

Opposing the death penalty doesn't cost us elections.  Public opinion has moved in our direction on that in the last 10 years.  IL and MD adopted moratoriums on the death penalty, and NJ just abolished theirs.  More states are in the works.  None have imposed it where it didn't exist already.  SCOTUS in recent years banned executing mentally retarded people, and then minors.  Capital punishment is on its way out, not rebounding.

I've never endorsed or given money to a Democrat who's pro-gun, just as I won't for any who are anti-choice or anti-gay.  It's a dealbreaker for me.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-11-16 09:11PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

Sounds like that works for where you live and that's great.  I'm talking about a winning platform of issues to win national elections.  Most importantly, I'm talking about priorities.

Look, I'm sure we agree on most of these things, possibly all, but my level of intensity on these issues is very small.  Quite frankly I don't worry about guns or the death penalty all that much, while paying my bills and keeping my health insurance is always on my mind.

by nintendofanboy 2008-11-21 11:26AM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

So you're not worried about 6 year old kids accidentally being killed by their drunk parents as just happened in Marysville, WA?  Virginia Tech didn't bother you?

That is national data, not local or state.  The idea that guns and the death penalty cost us elections is an uninformed myth created by the media.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-11-22 06:35PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

Yeah, gun control is a major Democratic priority, and it should remain one.  How else would Carolyn McCarthy have unseated Daniel Frisa?  Crime was a big fear in the early 90s that helped put Clinton in office (remember the 1992 call for 100,000 more police officers on the streets?  the COPS program?) and passed the landmark 1994 crime bill, which included the assault weapons ban that's since expired despite Bush's pledge to sign a renewal of it.  When that became law, and the economy improved, gun violence went down.  Crime goes up when the economy goes down, and gun control saves lives.  Columbine?  Virginia Tech?  The DC snipers?  How many school shootings will we tolerate every spring?  Gun deaths in America run something like 26,000 a year.  Medical professionals want gun control because it's become a public health issue!

We need to move forward on gun control, starting with a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.  There is no political reason to throw the issue overboard, and given how many thousands of lives are at stake, it wouldn't be worth it if it did help us win elections.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-11-16 09:04PM | 0 recs
Throwing gun control overboard

Yeah, sure.  Read this and tell me Dems should drop it.  Preventing 6 year olds from killing themselves makes us look wimpy??  

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-11-16 11:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Throwing gun control overboard

UPDATE: The 6 year old girl has now died, and her father is being charged.  But I'm sure it's a low price to pay for our 2nd Amendment rights.

>_<

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-11-17 08:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

"Making the support of capital punishment mandatory for national candidate."

That just shows how poor a Democrat Bill Clinton was.

by demjim 2008-11-17 05:52AM | 0 recs

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